How Many Carbs On Keto Should You Be Eating? What the Science Says

    
Emmie Satrazemis, RD, CSSD
Emmie Satrazemis, RD, CSSD

How many carbs can you have on keto? You may have heard 20 grams as the go-to number for achieving ketosis, but as it turns out the ideal carb intake can look different for everyone. Your exact need is more closely related to your overall calorie goal, body weight, metabolic efficiency, and activity level. Meaning, you may be able to eat more or less than you think! 

Keto Carb Calculator

Use this simple keto carb calculator below to get your recommended keto carb intake based on your unique health and fitness goals.

What Is The Keto Carb Limit? 

When it comes to your personal macro recommendations, you’ve got to turn to the science. We know there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to health on other diets, so why would keto be any different?

As it turns out, it’s not. Regardless of what the internet has told you, there doesn’t seem to be any conclusive research indicating that the 20 gram carb suggestion is right for every one (1,2,3,4,5,6). 

So why does everyone keep saying this?

This advised carb amount mainly comes from the recommended keto macro ranges, which include less than 5% of your calories come from carbs - on a 2,000 calorie diet, 5% of your calories would equal roughly 20 grams of carbs per day or less. 

Most people will still use 20 grams or less as a starting place, but there are a few other things to consider when it comes to your individual carbohydrate goals on a ketogenic diet. These include: 

Your Keto Diet Calories

Knowing your daily calorie needs is not only crucial for your ability to lose weight on keto but can also help you quickly estimate your keto macro ratio. 

Typically, the more calories you can eat, the more carbohydrates you can eat - and vice versa. And your calorie needs are most strongly tied to your body weight and activity level - the more you weigh and the more you move, the more energy you need to fuel your body. 

For a standard ketogenic meal plan, carbs should make up less than 5% of your energy intake. From this, you can quickly estimate grams by dividing carb calories by 4 (since there are four calories in each gram of carbohydrate). 

So if you need 1,200 calories a day, your carbohydrate threshold would be 60 calories from carbs or 15 grams of carbs a day. And for someone who eats 2,500 calories a day, that number would increase to 125 carb calories or 31 grams per day. 

Bottom line: The higher your daily calorie needs, the more carbs you can eat on keto.

Supporting Your Fitness Needs

In addition to using your daily calorie goal, how active you are and the level of intensity you train at can impact your ability to utilize carbs efficiently. 

Burning fat for fuel yields an increase in ketones - an efficient energy source that can replace sugars for nearly all of your daily needs. However, ketone bodies likely don’t support high-intensity training and explosive movements the same way glucose (primarily form carbs) does. 

Thus, if you are working out at higher intensities, regularly, you may be able to increase your carb intake a bit around your workouts without messing with your keto diet. 

Bottom line: The more active you are, the more carbs you can utilize efficiently. 

Your Metabolic Efficiency

Most of us burn a combination of fat and sugar for energy on a regular basis - regardless of which diet plan we are following. Yes, going keto can help you prioritize fat for fuel over everything else, but it’s not the only way to become good at burning fat. 

Your diet history is the largest factor in determining how well you can utilize different energy sources. If you lived on high carb foods for a while now, you might find it more of a dramatic shift to ketones - this is mainly because your body has been used to quick access to sugars for so long and you’ll need to cut back significantly. 

While on the flip side, if you’ve traditionally eaten moderately to lower carb before going keto, you may find it easier to make the jump. 

It is also crucial to mention this may look different for type 2 diabetics. While low carb diets and a ketogenic diet are thought to have favorable health benefits for those with diabetes, it is still highly recommended that you speak with your physician or a registered dietitian before trying keto. 

Bottom line: Your previous diet may determine how efficiently you can switch to fat for fuel. 

How Many Carbs to Get Into and Stay in Ketosis?

Research suggests that a carb intake of fewer than 50 grams of carbs per day is sufficient to promote ketosis in most people (7). But again, the perfect amount can change based on the many factors highlighted above. 

So how can you tell if your keto macro ratio is working? 

Experiencing side effects of Keto flu is usually a good first indicator that your carb-cutting is on track, but the best way to tell if your carb levels are ideal is to measure your ketone levels. 

If you are having a hard time reaching ketosis or adjusting to a very low carb diet like keto, keep in mind that it is entirely possible to see the weight loss benefits of going low carb without ketosis, as long as you control your calories. 

Bottom line: your body weight, fitness level, and previous diet determine your carb needs for ketosis. 

Special Mention: Protein Intake and Ketosis

While carbs are typically targeted as the sole perpetrator of increasing your insulin levels and blood sugar, protein might also increase insulin and can be converted into glucose (sugar) for fuel. This is why most ketogenic diet advocates suggest only moderate protein intake since it is thought protein may kick you out of ketosis. 

However, higher protein intake is highly encouraged for active individuals to supply important amino acids for muscle repair and growth. Additionally, research suggests that higher protein intakes likely don’t interfere with ketosis, and in fact, may help suppress appetite and support overall fat loss goals for non-athletes. 

Keto Net Carbs vs Total Carbs

Most importantly, when counting your carb intake, it is often recommended to use net carbs per day over total carbs.

Certain types of carbohydrates, like fiber and sugar alcohols, are not easily absorbed by the body and don’t affect your blood sugar and insulin levels the same way sugars do. Thus you can subtract these types of carbs from your daily total to count net carb intake. 

For example, if you eat 30 grams of total carbs, but that includes 12 grams of fiber you can count 17 grams of net carbs for the day. 

This approach is also much easier to manage your macros, as many nutritious, fibrous foods like fruits and veggies contain carbs, but also provide important health benefits you won’t want to miss out on.  

Psst... Trifecta keto meals have less than 10 grams of net carbs each! Helping you stay under you daily carb limit and on top of you overall nutrition. 

Bottom line: Count net carbs to allow room for nutrient-dense plant foods that support good health. 

Perfecting Your Keto Carb Macro

The truth is, cutting carbs is only part of the battle when it comes to seeing results on a ketogenic meal plan. You’ll also want to learn how to balance your protein intake and include plenty of healthy fats for a balanced approach.

This can take some strategy and skill, figuring out the right keto foods, portions, and recipes to keep you on track. 

This undertaking is also why it is becoming popular to solely focus on hitting carb intake with a so-called “lazy keto diet”. 

Want to make cutting carbs feel a little easier? Grab this free step by step guide to meal prep for keto, complete with food lists, menu planning tools, and expert advice to keep you track. 

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